Recent studies show that 18 percent of all people end up contracting the influenza virus each year during the winter season; however, many of them do not realize they actually have the flu because it is often mistaken for a cold. Strains of influenza such as swine flu and seasonal flu are known as asymptomatic because in recent years, people suffering from these types of the influenza virus did not present any symptoms when infected.
In fact, 75 percent of people infected with influenza each winter do not show any flu-like symptoms at all according to Dr. Christopher Belcher with Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital who says that “some people can have the influenza virus in their respiratory tract and yet exhibit no symptoms at all.” And that having no symptoms of the flu makes it easy for people to dismiss the fact that they are indeed sick and they end up simply blaming it on the common cold or just not feeling well.
While it would be nice from the patient’s standpoint to have influenza without all the horrible side effects such as fever, chills, sore throat, coughing, body aches, headache, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea, Dr. Belcher says those infected could “spread influenza to those who are at very high risk” for contracting the virus such as young children, elderly individuals, and those whose immune systems are already compromised because they are sick with other types of illnesses. Therefore, he cautions everyone to use “common sense hygiene” such as washing your hands often to help prevent the spread of the virus.
A study conducted in England analyzed six years of data gathered during flu seasons from 2006 to 2011. The data collected from studying blood samples of nearly 5,500 people at the beginning and end of flu season showed that out of the 18 percent of people who contract the influenza virus each year, only 23 percent of them actually ended up developing symptoms. In addition, only 17 percent of people became sick enough to seek medical attention and in many cases were not recognized as having the influenza virus.
Dr. Andrew Hayward with the University College in London says those cases of influenza that are actually reported “represent just the tip of a large clinical and subclinical iceberg,” which leaves countless others to often mistake the influenza virus for a simple cold and skip going to the doctor for further evaluation.
Influenza is a severe virus that is responsible for hospitalizing and killing many people each and every year. But in order to fully understand the severity of the issue, Dr. Hayward says “we need better methods” of detecting the virus in people who are not exhibiting symptoms. “You really need to understand not only the number of people who end up in hospitals or die but also the number of people in the community who are infected in the first place.”
If you are not feeling quite like yourself, do not make the mistake of blaming it on a simple cold because more often than not, you could in fact have the influenza virus.
By Donna W. Martin